Brussels, 7th November 2003
Preparation of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, Brussels, 10th November 2003
The EU's Council of Ministers for Competitiveness will meet in Brussels on 10th November 2003. The Commission will be represented by Commissioners David Byrne (Health and Consumer Protection), Erkki Liikanen (Enterprise and Information Society) and Philippe Busquin (Research).
Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices (TM)
The Council will hold a first policy debate on the proposed Directive on unfair commercial practices. This proposal was adopted by the Commission on 18th June this year (see IP/03/857) and is beginning its first reading in the European Parliament.
EU-wide surveys have confirmed that unfair commercial practices, and uncertainty about what protection is in place to tackle them, undermine consumer confidence (see Eurobarometer 57.2 and Flash Eurobarometer 128 via http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/). At the same time, nearly half (47%) of businesses cite the need for compliance with different national regulations on commercial practices, advertising and other consumer protection regulations as important obstacles to legitimate cross-border advertising and marketing Advertising and marketing are two examples of areas covered by the proposed Directive.
The Commission's proposal aims to overcome these barriers to the Internal Market and to achieve the same high level of consumer protection throughout the EU by establishing common EU-wide rules. It lays down the principles for determining whether a commercial practice is unfair and defines a limited range of "sharp practices" to be prohibited EU-wide. Once these EU-wide standards of protection are in place, businesses will only have to comply with the requirements of their country of origin when selling to consumers around the EU.
Competitiveness and Growth (PH)
The Council is expected to have an exchange of views on this point focusing on research aspects, based on a document with two questions prepared by the Presidency.
On 30th April 2003, the Commission adopted a Communication on “Investing in research: an action plan for Europe” (COM(2003)226) which sets out initiatives to reach the Barcelona ”3% objective”. The Action Plan identifies initiatives required to increase the level of investment in research in the EU from 1.9% to 3% of average Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with two-thirds financed by the private sector.
The Council, at its meeting on 13th May 2003, had a first exchange of views on this Communication.
On 22nd September, the Council adopted a Council Resolution responding to the Commission's Communication. The Resolution invited Member States, acceding countries and the Commission to develop and implement several measures aimed at achieving the 3% objective, through the open method of co-ordination, such as:
The Action Plan and "3% objective" feed into the Commission's "Initiative for Growth", as endorsed by the October 16-17 European Council. The Initiative for Growth aims at encouraging Europe's economic recovery and take-off by focussing on transport infrastructures and major research projects. In this framework, the Commission will present a list of "QuickStart" projects shortly.
Electromagnetic compatibility (PH)
The Council is expected to reach general orientations regarding the Commission proposal for a modification of the electromagnetic compatibility directive. This proposal will simplify the application of this directive that has an important economic impact on industry, concerning several millions of new products per year in Europe.
New approach (PH)
The Council is expected to adopt a Council Resolution on the Communication of the Commission “Enhancing the Implementation of the New Approach Directives”. This Communication, adopted on 7 May 2003, is the first general review of important horizontal aspects of the New Approach. It sets out recommendations aimed at further reinforcing the operational efficiency of the Internal Market with cost effective, targeted measures.
There will be a first exchange of views on the Commission's proposal for a new EU regulatory framework for chemicals adopted on 29 October. Under the proposed new system called REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of CHemicals), enterprises that manufacture or import more than one tonne of a chemical substance per year would be required to register it in a central database. The aims of the proposed new Regulation are to improve the protection of human health and the environment while maintaining the competitiveness and enhancing the innovative capability of the EU chemicals industry. REACH would furthermore give greater responsibility to industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. This information would be passed down the chain of production. The proposal has been drafted in close consultation with all interested parties, including an Internet consultation. This has allowed the Commission to propose a streamlined and cost-effective system (see IP/03/1477).
Researchers' careers at the centre of the European Research Area (FF)
The Council will hold an exchange of views and possibly adopt a Resolution on mobility of researchers in the EU. This follows on from the July 2003 Commission Communication on “Researchers in the European Research Area: one profession, multiple careers”, which identifies factors that impact on the development of careers in R&D, namely training, recruitment methods, employment conditions, evaluation mechanisms and career advancement. It also feeds into the drive to increase the number of researchers in the European Union to meet the objective of increasing European research spending to 3% of EU GDP by 2010. According to recent estimates this would require 700,000 new researchers.
The Council Resolution welcomes the Commission's initiatives in this field, in particular the launch of a “European Researcher's Charter”, of a code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers, and of a European Year of Researchers. It calls for further analyses and data gathering on career development issues and research training, and for further improvement in the work of the Researchers' Mobility Portal and the European network of mobility centres.
The Resolution also calls for setting criteria to record different professional achievements throughout the career of researchers, and for identifying and exchanging good practice on the evaluation and appraisal systems for careers in R&D. It encourages the social dialogue, as well as dialogue among researchers, stakeholders and society at large, including improving public awareness of science and promoting the interest of young people in research and in a career in science. It addresses the conditions of doctoral candidates, and asks for the promotion of equal opportunities for male and female researchers. It also fosters efforts to remove other obstacles to researchers' mobility.
The Commission is currently preparing a directive on visas for researchers, thus increasing their mobility from one member state to another and benefiting research and development across the EU.
Informal debate on ITER (FF)
The Council will hold an informal debate on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) at lunchtime. ITER aims to build a new large-scale experimental reactor producing a high level of energy through the fusion of hydrogen nuclei at very high temperature. ITER partners include the European Union, Japan, Russia, Canada, the United States, the People's Republic of China and South Korea. The EU participates with a total of €750 million, representing the biggest share of the EU's €1.250 billion EURATOM Framework Programme (2003-2006) budget.
The programme should create conditions for the construction of the ITER facility over the next few years. Total costs for ITER construction and operation should amount to €10 billion over 30 years. Two European countries, Spain and France, have presented candidate sites. Japan and Canada also presented candidate sites. The decision on the site and cost-sharing arrangements should be taken at international level by the end of year. The Council will take no formal decision at the November 10th meeting. Further deliberations on these issues are expected at the November 27th Competitiveness Council meeting.